My almost two-year-old grandson is obsessed with trucks and can identify them all. Driving back to the city from our two-week stay in the Adirondacks, we made a game of spotting them.
“Crane truck!” he shouted from his carseat as we passed a construction site. “Grocery truck!” he called, waving his own plastic version with the veggies on the sides at the semis we passed, some of which actually were carrying the logos of supermarkets and suppliers, and some of which were just plain tractor trailers.
In the city, the most ubiquitous trucks are either brown UPS panel trucks or white USPS trucks with the distinctive red and white stripes and eagle logo. Vince doesn’t have his own UPS truck, but his “mail truck” is a perennial in his make believe games.
Which got me to thinking about Trump’s efforts to neuter the United States Postal Service. He’s trying to prevent voting by mail in November. He’s wrong, but he also thinks he is exacting revenge on Amazon’s owner Jeff Bezos, whose delivery service uses the USPS. Republicans have been gutting the post office budget since the 1980s, for reasons that seem obscure to me, given its importance to so many reliably Republican small town and rural residents. Surveys reveal the postal service to be the most popular government function; perhaps that’s why small government conservatives want to gut it.
My relationship to the postal service has evolved over the years. I can’t remember the last time that I hand wrote an actual letter. Even my bills are paid exclusively online. The monthly ritual of sitting at the kitchen table with a stack of invoices, a checkbook, those stick on return address labels and a sheet of stamps feels like something out of a 1970s novel. I guess I bear some of the responsibility for the post office’s financial vulnerability.
Now that I think of it, I feel sad that the era of letter writing has gone the way of cabbage patch kids, walkmen, and princess phones. Those once ubiquitous items have long since been consigned to the landfill. But even as my life has segued from a four bedroom house to a three bedroom house to a one bedroom apartment, I have kept several archival boxes filled with letters that I somehow knew I would want to keep for posterity.
I documented my “grand tour” of Europe the summer after my sophomore year in college by writing weekly letters to my father. He saved them, and gave me the bundle of light blue “Par Avion” fold up missives on one of his last trips to visit me. I have such a fond recollection of posting them from the American Express offices in the cities I passed through! Rereading them, I see that I was a social critic even then, commenting, for example, on the fashion sense of Italian men and the snobbery of the Parisians who answered my (pretty decent I thought) French with broken English.
I have only one from my beloved Quaker grandfather, written in a shaky hand to wish me luck in my graduate studies in California. It was he who taught me that studying the lives of the ordinary people of the past had value. His ability to spin a yarn that captivated me about his own youth growing up in a family of twelve on a Pennsylvania farm convinced me that history could be not just dry facts, but haunting narrative.
And of course, there are the love letters, although not all of them, because in some instances the pain of a breakup caused me to trash some in a fit of pique, on one occasion actually burning up a stack. Separated during the summers from my high school boyfriend, the highlight of my day was walking to the mailbox to retrieve another letter. Oh how I remember the hormone-fueled warmth that would course through my body, causing my face to flush, as I read and reread them!
Somehow email just doesn’t carry that emotional weight for me. My last breakup and subsequent divorce negotiations were clinically documented in email correspondence. I had discovered my husband’s infidelity on his phone, in his text messages, a sign not just of the times, but of his mistaken impression that he was hiding his conduct well enough that I wouldn’t discover it. Despite its life-changing consequences, that folder in my Gmail feels so much less real than the pieces of my past carefully sorted and tied with ribbons in those archival boxes.
All of which is to say that, like my grandson Vince, I have an emotional connection to the United States Postal Service and the newly half million postal workers who wear that familiar blue/gray uniform and drive those distinctive red, white and blue trucks.
There is a reason that the postal service was mandated in the U.S. Constitution. It is one of the most important ties that binds a sprawling nation together, that connects its citizens in good times and bad, and that symbolizes the equality of every address, every mailbox, every mail recipient. It’s not there to make a profit, but to enrich the lives of the rest of us.
I hope you will, as I have, call (or write!) your congressional representatives and donate to the campaign to save the post office here.